“We want to make expats lives easier”: The Expat Centre in Prague
Lucia Legáthová is an economic diplomacy specialist for the City of Prague and also runs the Prague Expat Centre, located in the heart of downtown. I recently sat down with Legáthová to talk about what the Centre does to help newcomers, and the allure of Prague as a city to foreigners.
“The centre was established in 2020 right before Covid hit us, so it was difficult to get ahead and get started. But we’re still here after three years and we’re quite happy about that. The basis of our work is that we are the official information service for the City of Prague. We want to help expats who come to Prague with orientation in the city.
“We know it can be quite difficult when you come to a new city and especially when you don’t speak the language – understanding the bureaucracy is difficult even for Czech people, it must be crazy for people who speak English or another language. And that’s why we came to be – we just want to make expats lives easier and help with whatever we can help with.”
What are the mechanisms you have in place that help ease the transition for expats?
“We have three different areas of our services. Firstly, we provide information via consultations which can be done online via email or in person, which is usually nicer for people. Seeing and actually talking to someone can be more comforting, so we also prefer that as well.
“The second part of our information services is our website and social media channels. We have Instagram and Facebook pages where we share information about Prague, and we try to do that in more popular ways than how institutions usually do. We also have information guides for three specific groups: for students, people who want to work in Prague, and people who want to start a business in Prague. Each guide is about 100 pages long, so they contain all the information that expats might need.
“The third thing we do are events. Our philosophy is that we don’t exclusively do networking events, we always want to provide added value, an educational aspect per say. Once or twice a month we have an event in our physical space here in the city centre next to the Franz Kafka head statue, and people are welcome to come, all of our events are for free.”
What do these events typically look like?
“This past year we’ve been concentrating on career consulting, so we want to help expats who are either looking for a job, or who are already in a job but want to change positions to orientate themselves within the job market in the city.
“Other than that we try to react to the questions that are sent to us by expats. For example this month we had an event about the real estate market in Czechia – how can expats buy property, when is the best time to buy, and what you need to do. So they’re mainly educational events.”
You mentioned three different groups: students, people looking to work in Czechia and people wanting to open a business in Czechia as the expats coming to Prague. Are you seeing a trend that more of one group are coming to the city now or are all three kinds of people booming in general?
“I would say the majority is people who want to work in Prague. In second place it’s students, and business is not that common. Usually, it’s hard for investors to come into Prague because the unemployment in the city is quite low, one of the lowest in Europe, so it’s really difficult for companies to find workers here.
“That’s why we try to take care of the talent that comes to Czechia, we try and connect them with businesses here. Another thing we are supporting as well are people who want to start their own businesses here in Prague – self-employed people or small companies.”
Are you noticing that Prague is becoming a more international destination?
“Yes, definitely. Prague has always been a place for international people, it’s always been interesting for people like scientists Albert Einstein or Nikola Tesla. They used to study and work here. Prague has always been captivating for people like this, but in the last few years Prague has definitely seen a rise in expats coming to live in the city.
“What we are trying to do as well within the city is showcase Prague not only as a tourist destination. We want to show people that Prague is not just about cheap beer and good parties, it’s about so much more. There are so many opportunities for you as an individual here – it’s a great place to live, the cost of living is quite low, and it’s one of the safest cities in the world.”
When it comes to the integration of expats with Czech people, have you noticed that this is shifting at all or is there still a barrier?
“I think this is still difficult for expats because Czech people can seem a bit cold at the beginning. But this is what we tell expats: once you start to get to know them, you see that Czechs are very welcoming and they want to get to know expats. I think in the last few years it’s been getting better for sure because more and more people speak English so it’s easier to communicate.
“Many events in Prague are now for Czechs and expats, so it’s easier to meet people like this. There are also some cultural places in the city that are intended for both Czechs and expats so they can talk together and integrate.”
Why do you think places like the Expat Centre in Prague are important?
“Having a space where you can come and have your questions answered is very important for people who come to a new city and might be feeling a little bit lost at the beginning. The events are helping as well because we see it as a starting point for expats to meet people and network in the city.
“From the point of view of the City, we want to show people from other countries who are moving to Prague that we really appreciate them coming, and we want to help them. As I said, the bureaucracy can be challenging, but that’s not something that can be changed in a day. What we can do is help expats understand what is going on.”